Waterproof Casts for Swimming or Showering

Cast
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The biggest nuisance with having to wear a cast is the need to keep it dry. You have to fuss with bags or a waterproof cover to take a bath or shower and swimming is definitely out of the question. However, for the right person and the right injury, you might be able to wear a waterproof cast instead.

While traditional paddings used for casts will fall apart when they get wet, the waterproof option doesn't. It may seem like a logical choice that will end many frustrations that come with a broken arm or leg, however, these casts are not perfect.

Before you ask your doctor to put a waterproof cast on you or your child, there are some things you need to know.

Waterproof Cast Materials

Waterproof cast materials are not really waterproof, rather they are water resistant. When a fiberglass cast is used with a waterproof cast liner, water can drain from the cast and the padding will remain intact.

Prior to the development of these waterproof and breathable paddings, casts were padded with cotton. While cotton can be comfortable, it does not tolerate water and tends to collect sweat and odors over time. Because of this, the only way to clean the extremity was to see the doctor, have the cast removed, wash the skin, and get a new cast.

Waterproof casts use synthetic materials like Gore-Tex which repel water while allowing water vapor to pass through. Even after bathing or swimming, a Gore-Tex liner can quickly siphon water from under the cast and air-dry within hours.

The covering is no different from cotton-padded casts. Most doctors have been using colorful fiberglass coverings to wrap casts for years. These are tougher than the more traditional plaster casts.

Advantages

In a study published in 2016, researchers compared cast liners made of cotton and Gore-Tex on 20 people with broken bones. The subjects ranged in age from 3 to 30, each of whom wore cotton liners through half of the healing process and Gore-Tex liners during the other half.

Compared to cotton-lined casts, the waterproof options produced far less sweat and odor and, by doing so, kept the limb underneath cleaner. And because people could rinse the cast daily, they had a better experience overall with 75 percent strongly preferring the waterproof liner.

Doctors in the study noted fewer skin problems as well. Despite being more difficult to apply, the waterproof liner also got higher marks from the doctors.

The study also notes that there was no difference in pain, itching, or overall comfort between the two casts. The casts did not weigh any different, either.

Overall, researchers concluded that waterproof liners show promise in reducing patient frustrations with casting. While they may not be perfect, this technology does have a good start for making casts more comfortable and easier to deal with.

Disadvantages

The biggest problem with waterproof casting material is that it's expensive. Even more important is that some insurance companies will not cover it. Your doctor's office may not know right away if the cast is covered or not, so you could be in for some sticker shock.

While a Gore-Tex liner is able to wick moisture, it may take hours to do so. It is for this reason that people with a compound fracture (in which the skin is broken) will be advised not to wet the cast until the wound is sufficiently healed.

Even if the skin is not broken, it may feel as if you're wearing a wet sock as you wait for the liner to dry.

Similarly, while you can swim with a waterproof cast, you doctors may advise you not to go to the beach as sand and other debris can get trapped under the fibers. As such, it may be better to stick to a swimming pool until you are fully healed.

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Article Sources
  • Guillen PT, Fuller CB, Riedel BB, Wongworawat MD. A Prospective Randomized Crossover Study on the Comparison of Cotton Versus Waterproof Cast Liners. Hand (N.Y.) 2016;11(1):5053.
  • Children's Orthopaedic and Scoliosis Surgery Associates, LLP. Waterproof Casts. 2015.